Does Trump Want an Exit Ramp?

When it comes to a classic narcissist like Donald Trump, it’s hard to say when (or if) he’ll begin to find the process of running for president so humiliating that he’s tempted to just drop out. He clearly doesn’t care that “respectable” people are routinely calling him a racist and comparing him to some of the most notorious fascist dictators of the 20th-Century. He doesn’t seem to care that the intelligentsia and the media elite are condemning his character and his intelligence. But he’s also obsessed with his image and he’s financially dependent on his brand. His campaign has already cost him business relationships and partnerships, yet that hasn’t tamed or dissuaded him so far.

But, let’s remember what happened to H. Ross Perot, who you might recall dropped out of the race in July 1992 only to reenter it in early October:

Like Trump, Perot was allergic to spending money: he believed that paid advertising was unnecessary as long as he could get on TV as often as he wished. For a time, it worked: He got away with many slip-ups, gaffes and misdeeds because they reinforced his outsider persona. Perot was adept at using the public’s disdain of the news media to deflect criticism. Repeatedly deemed a nut-bag by the press, Perot adopted an appropriate campaign song: the Patsy Cline tune, “Crazy.”

But Perot came to despise the scrutiny brought on by all the free media he sought, and he never truly embraced retail politics to the degree needed to win. Just as Trump has drawn criticism for phoning in his cable-news appearances from his bedroom, Perot preferred to campaign from his Dallas office rather than make personal appearances. And ultimately, his skin proved too thin for the race: When he withdrew in mid-July, he gave various official explanations for the decision. But the one his advisers gave to the New York Times was telling: “[C]ampaign insiders described Mr. Perot as a man obsessed with his image who began to lose interest in the contest when faced with a barrage of critical news reports.” Even when Perot dove back into the race in the fall, he was a busted candidate: in the final five weeks, he left Dallas only for debates and a handful of rallies. After his 1992 loss, Perot’s image never really recovered, and after one more flailing presidential run in 1996, he disappeared from the public eye almost entirely.

Trump’s already getting a little squirrelly. He’s under pressure after his campaign manager was indicted yesterday for battering a Breitbart reporter, and now he’s reneging on his pledge to support the eventual nominee because he feels the RNC has treated him shabbily and he can sense that the party elite are plotting to deny him the nomination at the convention. There’s increasing talk that he could cost the Republicans control of the House of Representatives as well as the Senate.

Due to sore loser laws in many states that will prevent Trump from running as an independent after failing to secure the Republican nomination, he cannot run a successful third party candidacy. But he could get on the ballot in some red states, split the vote, and hand Electoral College delegates to Clinton or Sanders. I can see him doing that out of spite.

If he does secure the nomination, I could even see him losing interest like Perot did briefly if he thinks he’s just getting abused, his image is being irreparably harmed, and that he’ll go down in history as a major loser.

He’s very unpredictable. He seems to be getting enough validation at the moment to make all the hits he’s taking seem worthwhile, but this doesn’t seem to make much sense from a business or branding perspective, and he surely knows that history is written by the same intellectuals who increasingly despise him with the heat of a thousand suns.

And reading what the former Communications Director of the Make America Great Again Super PAC, Stephanie Cegielski, had to say yesterday, it seems like Trump may be like the dog who actually caught the car.

Almost a year ago, recruited for my public relations and public policy expertise, I sat in Trump Tower being told that the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in delegate count. That was it.

The Trump camp would have been satisfied to see him polling at 12% and taking second place to a candidate who might hold 50%. His candidacy was a protest candidacy…

…I don’t think even Trump thought he would get this far. And I don’t even know that he wanted to, which is perhaps the scariest prospect of all.

He certainly was never prepared or equipped to go all the way to the White House, but his ego has now taken over the driver’s seat, and nothing else matters…

…What was once Trump’s desire to rank second place to send a message to America and to increase his power as a businessman has nightmarishly morphed into a charade that is poised to do irreparable damage to this country if we do not stop this campaign in its tracks.

I’ll say it again: Trump never intended to be the candidate. But his pride is too out of control to stop him now.

You can give Trump the biggest gift possible if you are a Trump supporter: stop supporting him.

He doesn’t want the White House. He just wants to be able to say that he could have run the White House. He’s achieved that already and then some. If there is any question, take it from someone who was recruited to help the candidate succeed, and initially very much wanted him to do so.

I don’t know if Ms. Cegielski is correct about what Trump originally intended or if it even matters anymore what he set out to do in the beginning. But, maybe she’s right and he’s looking for an offramp. Maybe winning the nomination and then losing to Clinton or Sanders would be his worst nightmare.

Who can say what goes on in his mind?

All I know is that this won’t end well for him and he’s got to know that.

So, does he pull the plug before Cleveland? Does he flake out after Cleveland?

Or is he in it all the way to the end?

And, if so, what terrifies him more?

The humiliation of losing?

Or the responsibility of winning?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.